BASIS gets more coverage it probably doesn’t want


by David Safier

I'm delighted to see that Diane Ravitch featured my recent post, Conservatives on BASIS charter schools: "Print the legend," on her blog. Through her blog and the group she's begun, Network for Public Education, Ravitch is bringing together the progressive side of the education debate, linking to some of the best articles, columns and ideas coming out each day, things I've had to hunt for before and often missed. It's turning into an invaluable gathering place. (If, by the way, you want to keep up on education news, "Like" NPE's Facebook page and follow it on your own FB page.)

The gist of my post is that the BASIS legend promoted heavily by the conservative "education reform" movement misrepresents the school as a successful answer to our "failing" traditional public schools. The truth behind the legend is, BASIS begins with a reasonably select group of students in the 6th grade which becomes ever more select as weaker students withdraw. By the 12th grade, two-thirds of the original students have left — maybe more if other students are picked up along the way. It's no great feat to produce terrific test scores if your student body is made up of a small group of very intelligent, highly motivated students.

In today's Star, Tim Steller does a good job of printing the truth about BASIS, not the legend. He writes about the number 2 ranking BASIS received in the recent U.S. News & World Report high school survey and says he's not overly impressed. "You can count on me for polite applause and a sigh," he says.

Steller talks about BASIS and University High as two examples of schools that demand their students, who are among the top students in the Tucson area, take lots of AP courses. Since the U.S. News rankings of top schools are based on the number of seniors who have taken AP courses and the scores they get on AP tests, naturally BASIS and UH end up near the top of the list.

So parents, here's the truth. If you want your children to go to a school that pushes academics above everything else, where students drop by the wayside if they can't meet the school's demanding standards, BASIS may be the place for you. But before you apply, be sure to check with current parents and students about the school atmosphere, which, I've heard, is less than warm and nurturing.

A "WHERE'S THE LOVE, TIM?" NOTE: I've been writing about BASIS for years and recently put together four lengthy posts around and about the same subject Steller writes about. He did his reporter's due diligence by contacting lots of people to get a variety of opinions about BASIS and the AP courses, but no doubt my investigative work played a part in the column. A brief mention, maybe, Tim, so more people know BfA is out there working the education beat?